Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Najd, the Heart of Arabia

Academic journal article Arab Studies Quarterly

Najd, the Heart of Arabia

Article excerpt

Introduction

Najd, the central region of the present-day Saudi Arabia, is probably one of the last regions in the old world to open up to the rest of the world following the sweeping waves of modernization and later on the reach of globalization. Today, there is ample information on almost all the cultural aspects of life and living in modern Najd; however, before World War II, life in Najd was different. Najd has a unique location and topographical features that shaped the lives and culture of its people and created distinctive life styles that have not been fully investigated and studied.

Starting from the beginning of the nineteenth century and up until the middle of the twentieth century, several Western countries successively sent explorers to Najd to inspect the political strength of the Emirates governing the area. The explorers were faced with the harsh climate of the area and its wide seas of sand that were very difficult to surpass. The explorers were also surprised to find, at the heart of those sands, oases of flourishing towns and villages with complex and intricate cultural properties. Although those explorers in their travel texts have given ample information about Najd, its inhabitants and unique culture, their texts still do not reflect the richness of the Najdi culture, and that was because of several factors. These factors included the secluded location, geography, and topography of Najd that made the area nearly inaccessible. These same factors had helped Najd to become self-sustained with a unique culture that was difficult to be understood, especially by people who came from vastly different cultures and environments. Therefore, the culture of Najd was underestimated.

Location

Throughout history, the location of Arabia as a whole has been important. Situated in the southwestern comer of Asia, Arabia has always been a bridge between Asia, Africa, and Europe; its sea ports along the Arabian Gulf, the Arabian Sea, and the Red Sea are vital to international trade and international political stability, and its present natural resources of oil and gas are equally vital to humanity. Despite its important location, its interior has remained relatively unknown to much of the world for thousands of years. In his book that was published in 1904, David Hogarth says that Arabia is "a land larger than peninsular India, lies in the heart of the Old World, and beside its main road of commerce, but we know much of it hardly better than the Antarctic continent." Hogarth adds in the same source that in spite of all the ignorance concerning Arabia, "few regions of the world have played a greater part in the history of mankind."1 It is important to note that Hogarth's comments were written before the discovery' of oil and gas in Arabia.

From the beginning of the twentieth century, since Hogarth wrote about Arabia and until today, the importance of Arabia to the history' of mankind has grown tremendously. Also, available information concerning Arabia has accumulated with the passage of time and with the change in political and economic interests. However, what was usually known about Arabia long before Hogarth's comments was mainly concentrated on areas along the three seas that are the eastern, western, and southern borders of Arabia. The northern part of Arabia has also been relatively known as several locations, like Tayma and al-Juf, were important parts of ancient international trade routes. The part of Arabia that was least known to the West in particular was its heart, Najd.

Najd is the heart of Arabia, and Arabia, which is also called Jazeerat Al Arab (Island of the Arabs) or Shibh AUazeera AlArabia (The Arabian Peninsula), is the world's largest peninsula with an area of more than three million square kilometers. That vast area is expanded even more with some geographical and historical sources including all of the Levant within the peninsula making the northern borders of Arabia reach Toros (Taurus) Mountains in southern Turkey. …

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